2014 NCAA Tournament Predictions: South Region

March 19, 2014

Ah, the South Region.

With the tournament’s top overall seed and a few other high seeds that have been too inconsistent for anyone to really predict what they’ll do, this should be an easy region to predict, right?

Maybe, but the way we think things will shake out hardly ever happens in this tournament.

Here is my breakdown of the South Region.

Second Round Games to Watch

#5 Virginia Commonwealth vs. #12 Stephen F. Austin (Friday, approximately 7:27 PM)

In a typically tasty No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchup, Stephen F. Austin will try to play the role of Giant Killer against the school that nearly redefined the term three years ago by heading from play-in darling to Final Four contender. Although the Lumberjacks have the nation’s longest winning streak (which several times this week I have seen incorrectly attributed to the Florida Gators), Brad Underwood’s team will be tasked with beating the Rams at what they do best: taking the ball away. Both VCU and Stephen F. Austin are amongst the leaders in steals this season, and the Rams actually lead the category as a team. But the gap closes when talking about steal to turnover ratio, giving the Lumberjacks a shot to do the unthinkable.

Without a whole lot of height on the roster, Stephen F. Austin would have been at a disadvantage against many teams in this tournament. But VCU’s Juvonte Reddic is only 6’9″, making him only a few inches taller than the Lumberjacks’ best big man, 6’6″ forward Jacob Parker. Expect this game to be decided by the play on the perimeter, and keep a close eye on VCU point guard Briante Weber. The junior is a thief, averaging 3.4 steals per contest, and is also adept at finding the open man on offense. With both teams looking to take advantage of the mistakes of the opposition, players like Weber will be key in the outcome of this game.

#7 New Mexico vs. #10 Stanford (Friday, 1:40 PM)

Those wondering how New Mexico ended up as a seven seed in the Big Dance are not alone in your thinking. The Lobos ended the regular season on a tear, dropping just two games since January 18th and winning the Mountain West Conference tournament. But as a reward, Craig Neal’s team gets to wage war with one of the more underrated Pac-12 squads in its first tournament game. Stanford has sort of been all over the map this season, but is a handful for any team thanks to a frontcourt led by 6’10” forward Dwight Powell and 6’1″ center Stefan Nastic. A lot of teams in the tournament would have had trouble containing the New Mexico power front of Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, but the Cardinal is not one such team.

With so much height in the paint, this game will likely be won by which set of big men can do the most damage. That not only includes putting the ball in the basket, but also working to get the opposition in foul trouble. Bairstow and Kirk love to play a physical brand of basketball for the Lobos, but will need to watch out from picking up too many fouls early in the game. Missing those two is dangerous against a team like Boise State, but it is downright suicide against a team like Stanford that has the low post strength on its own end to take complete advantage. However this game turns out, expect the winner to be a threat to continue rolling as well. Both teams have the recipe for taking down Kansas in the third round assuming that Joel Embiid isn’t back.

Team That Could Make a Run

New Mexico

In a couple of different ways, it was alluded to in the previous section that New Mexico could very well have been a higher seed in this tournament. And teams that don’t regard the Lobos as a squad that can play like a higher seed are making a mistake. Craig Neal’s squad is far more balanced than the New Mexico team that looked flat against Harvard in a second round upset in 2013, and as a result can win in more than one way. Obviously, the preferred and number one way is through Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk down low. But senior guard Kendall Williams has evolved into a more complete player as well and has seized the leadership role on this team, something that may have been missing the prior year.

If New Mexico can find a way to get past a tough Stanford team, the possibilities are endless. Kansas beat the Lobos by 17 points back in December, but that was thanks in large part to 18 points by Joel Embiid. Syracuse is a potential Sweet 16 opponent, and the Orange haven’t looked nearly as impressive of late on offense after starting the season 25-0. In actuality, New Mexico may be playing better basketball than every team in its region except Florida. And by the time the Lobos would have to play the Gators, New Mexico’s tournament success would already be characterized as a “run”.

My Picks

Second Round

#1 Florida over #16 Albany

#9 Pittsburgh over #8 Colorado

#5 Virginia Commonwealth over #12 Stephen F. Austin

#4 UCLA over #13 Tulsa

#6 Ohio State over #11 Dayton

#3 Syracuse over #14 Western Michigan

#7 New Mexico over #10 Stanford

#2 Kansas over #15 Eastern Kentucky

Third Round

#1 Florida over #9 Pittsburgh

#4 UCLA over #5 Virginia Commonwealth

#3 Syracuse over #6 Ohio State

#7 New Mexico over #2 Kansas (upset alert)

Sweet 16

#1 Florida over #4 UCLA

#3 Syracuse over #7 New Mexico

Elite 8

#1 Florida over #3 Syracuse

– K. Becks

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